Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street

An adaptation from Michael Lewis's new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, about high-frequency trading and the rigging of Wall Street:

“As the market problem got worse,” [Brad Katsuyama] says, “I started to just assume my real problem was with how bad their technology was.”

But as he talked to Wall Street investors, he came to realize that they were dealing with the same problem. He had a good friend who traded stocks at a big-time hedge fund in Stamford, Conn., called SAC Capital, which was famous (and soon to be infamous) for being one step ahead of the U.S. stock market. If anyone was going to know something about the market that Katsuyama didn’t know, he figured, it would be someone there. One spring morning, he took the train up to Stamford and spent the day watching his friend trade. Right away he saw that, even though his friend was using software supplied to him by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and the other big firms, he was experiencing exactly the same problem as RBC: He would hit a button to buy or sell a stock, and the market would move away from him. “When I see this guy trading, and he was getting screwed — I now see that it isn’t just me. My frustration is the market’s frustration. And I was like, ‘Whoa, this is serious.’ ”

PUBLISHED: March 31, 2014
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10876 words)

The Secret Life of Johnny Lewis

Johnny Lewis was a Hollywood actor who starred in series such as The O.C. and Sons of Anarchy. He soon began exhibiting troubling behavior that led to a grisly murder:

In late October 2011, Lewis lost control of his Triumph motorcycle near Twentynine Palms. At the hospital the staff checked him for signs of a concussion, but he was allowed to leave after tests came back negative. Michael Lewis, however, noticed that his son’s behavior was becoming erratic and bizarre. Had the accident shaken something loose in his brain? he wondered. The elder Lewis scheduled two MRIs, which Johnny refused to undergo. Friends picked up on Lewis’s change in behavior, too. During an acting class in December, he kept speaking in a vaguely British accent. “I asked him about it because I was confused,” Tucker says, “but he shrugged it off.” By the new year Lewis’s behavior would turn from curious to dangerous.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5380 words)

Did Goldman Sachs Overstep in Criminally Charging Its Ex-Programmer?

Programmer Sergey Aleynikov was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for downloading 8 megabytes of code he worked on from Goldman Sachs's high-frequency stock-trading system. Financial journalist Michael Lewis investigates how Aleynikov was punished for something only a few people understand, and holds a "kind of second trial" for Aleynikov so he can be judged by some people who actually do:

"The story the F.B.I. found so unconvincing—that Serge had taken the files because he thought he might later like to parse the open-source code contained within—made complete sense to the new jurors. As Goldman hadn’t permitted him to release his debugged or improved code back to the public—possibly in violation of the original free licenses, which often stated that improvements must be publicly shared—the only way to get his hands on these was to take the Goldman code. That he had taken, in the bargain, some code that wasn’t open source, which happened to be contained in the same files as the open-source code, surprised no one. Grabbing a bunch of files that contained both open-source and non-open-source code was an efficient, quick, and dirty way to collect the open-source code, even if the open-source code was the only part that interested him. It would have made far less sense for him to hunt around the Internet for the open-source code he wanted, as it was scattered all over cyberspace. It was entirely plausible to them that Serge’s interest was confined to the open-source code because that was the general-purpose code that might be re-purposed later. The Goldman proprietary code was written specifically for Goldman’s platform; it would have been of little use in any new system he wished to build. (Two small pieces of code Serge had sent into Teza’s computers before his arrest both came with open-source licenses.) 'Even if he had taken Goldman’s whole platform, it would have been faster and better for him to write the new platform himself,' said one juror. Several times he surprised them with his answers."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 46 minutes (11593 words)

Obama’s Way

Lewis follows the president for six months—joining him for basketball pickup games, a trip on Air Force One, and inside a decision on how to handle Libya:

"Before big meetings the president is given a kind of road map, a list of who will be at the meeting and what they might be called on to contribute. The point of this particular meeting was for the people who knew something about Libya to describe what they thought Qad­da­fi might do, and then for the Pentagon to give the president his military options. 'The intelligence was very abstract,' says one witness. 'Obama started asking questions about it. "What happens to the people in these cities when the cities fall? When you say Qaddafi takes a town, what happens?"' It didn’t take long to get the picture: if they did nothing they’d be looking at a horrific scenario, with tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered. (Qaddafi himself had given a speech on February 22, saying he planned to 'cleanse Libya, house by house.') The Pentagon then presented the president with two options: establish a no-fly zone or do nothing at all. The idea was that the people in the meeting would debate the merits of each, but Obama surprised the room by rejecting the premise of the meeting. 'He instantly went off the road map,' recalls one eyewitness. 'He asked, "Would a no-fly zone do anything to stop the scenario we just heard?"' After it became clear that it would not, Obama said, 'I want to hear from some of the other folks in the room.'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 11, 2012
LENGTH: 55 minutes (13989 words)

It’s Good to Be Michael Lewis

He can write about these kinds of people with such skill in part because he is one of them. At a time of peril for his industry, Lewis has managed to build what amounts to a personal empire of long-form journalism, with a Warren Buffett-like collection of brands and eye for the next big thing. “He’s got good instincts for the individual story and for the broader picture of where that story belongs,” says Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “The big story of the day is the world financial crisis, and he’s the most kick-ass business writer out there.” His aptitude for translating and enlivening financial concepts has made him an indispensable observer of the crisis: In May 2010, Politico reported that The Big Short had been name-checked on the official Senate record at least fifteen times since its publication just two months before, and that Hill staffers had been calling Lewis at home for advice.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 2, 2011
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4217 words)

California and Bust

The smart money says the U.S. economy will splinter, with some states thriving, some states not, and all eyes are on California as the nightmare scenario. After a hair-raising visit with former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who explains why the Golden State has cratered, Michael Lewis goes where the buck literally stops—the local level, where the likes of San Jose mayor Chuck Reed and Vallejo fire chief Paige Meyer are trying to avert even worse catastrophes and rethink what it means to be a society.
PUBLISHED: Sept. 29, 2011
LENGTH: 45 minutes (11495 words)

The Art Of Winning An (even More) Unfair Game

The secrets of Moneyball, eight years later. "The young men had heaps of fun, working crazy hours and, to blow off steam, knocking golf balls around the office, playing football among the cubicles and celebrating big wins with postgame refreshments at Boston watering holes. Then one day in 2002, a best-selling writer by the name of Michael Lewis walked into the Red Sox offices and knocked the smile right off Epstein's face. Lewis was working on a book about baseball's nascent information age, but Epstein wanted nothing to do with him. 'I can't believe Billy is letting him write this book,' he told his colleagues. Billy Beane, Oakland's general manager, had granted Lewis access to his front-office operations, which meant revealing how the A's were mining information from statistical analysis, a tool used extensively at the time by only the Athletics, Indians, Blue Jays and Red Sox. 'He's handing out the blueprint,' Epstein told Hoyer."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 21, 2011
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4711 words)

It’s the Economy, Dummkopf!

With Greece and Ireland in economic shreds, while Portugal, Spain, and perhaps even Italy head south, only one nation can save Europe from financial Armageddon: a highly reluctant Germany. The ironies—like the fact that bankers from Düsseldorf were the ultimate patsies in Wall Street’s con game—pile up quickly as Michael Lewis investigates German attitudes toward money, excrement, and the country’s Nazi past, all of which help explain its peculiar new status.
PUBLISHED: Aug. 10, 2011
LENGTH: 38 minutes (9622 words)

A Good Joke Spoiled

It is hard to think of another writer as great as Mark Twain who did so many things that even merely good writers are not supposed to do. Great writers are not meant to write bad books, much less publish them. Twain not only published a lot of bad books, he doesn’t appear to have noticed the difference between his good ones and his bad ones. Great writers are not meant to care more about money than art. Twain cared so much about money that what little he writes about his art in his autobiography is almost entirely, and obsessively, about the business end of things: his paychecks, his promotional tours, his financial disputes with publishers, his venture capital investments in publishing and printing technology.
PUBLISHED: July 2, 2011
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3232 words)